SAN CASSIANO, THE PERFECT BASE TO EXPLORE VAL BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES.

[SAN CASSIANO IN ALTA BADIA, ITALY] — Wednesday nights are Festa Nights in San Cassiano in the summer. People come from kilometers away, tasting great foods from local restaurants, local craft beers (doesn’t everywhere have local craft beers nowadays?) and watching Ladin craftsman hone wood objects like they’ve done for centuries. (Cutting boards are big sellers.)

And, perhaps appropriately, a country music band. Nothing like a little Hank Williams to make your strudel even more fun. Plus, you can waltz to it.

You should have seen it. A girl in a cowboy hat introducing each song in Italian, old couples and waiters all beebopping all happy up and down the street.

It was a little surreal, sitting outside on the terrace of the restaurant at Rosa Alpina, enjoying the most stupendous and delightfully spicy loops of perfectly al dente paccheri pasta, with chunky hunks of lobster, olives and ripe tomatoes with “Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo…” playing in the square.

People in leather lederhosen shorts and checked shirts square-stepping it out in the piazza. A local teenager (going thru his awkward period) walked by with his Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, mouthing the words to himself… “Goodbye Joe me gotta go me oh my oh…” And then, along came a rainbow, with golden sunset mountains looming over the whole situation.

I can die now. My life is complete.

________________________

San Cassiano in Badia
About as good as it gets. San Cassiano sits high on the shoulders of Alta Badia valley, surrounded by lush green cow fields and iridescent granite mountains.

San Cassiano — The Upscale Village to Explore the Dolomites

San Cassiano/St. Kassian/San Ciascian in ‪‎Sud Tyrol‬ or ‪‎Alto Adige‬ or ‎Dolomiti‬. Like everything in this region of ‪‎Italy‬ it has three names, in Italian/German/Ladin (the local dialect that dates back to Roman tribes). It’s a gorgeous little ‪‎village‬ ringed by steep cliffs and a great base to ‎explore‬ the endless ‪‎valleys‬ of the ‪Dolomites‬.

The whole valley is called Val Badia, but the upper part around San Cassiano is called Alta Badia, a famed ski resort that draws people from all over the world. The entire area chock-full of ski resorts, all interconnected, that make this area one of the top ski destinations in the world.

The whole valley is called Val Badia, but the upper part around San Cassiano is called Alta Badia, a famed ski resort that draws people from all over the world.

San Cassiano is considered one of the ritziest towns in the Dolomites. Still, it’s a small village, only about half mile in length, with one main road and a few feeder streets that disappear as they finger up into the green mountain slopes. Summer is considered off season and quiet. And the prices are the lowest, so it’s perfect time to come.

View over San Cassiano
There’s one main road that threads all through the Trentino valleys, linking each. San Cassiano sits just above that road, so it’s easy to get to any destination. San Cassiano is the last major town before the road heads over the pass to the much larger Cortina. (I didn’t like Cortina)

All around town, the mountains loom over you, catching the sun longer than the town itself, reflecting a warm glow that makes the place even more magical.

There’s one main pedestrian street that weaves through town, lined with shops and a few, but not many, restaurants.

San Cassiano shopping street

San Cassiano — The Perfect Base to Explore Alta Badia

Val Badia is bookended by passes on each end that lead to other valleys, like this, Passo Gardena.
In winter it’s all interconnected by lifts and resorts and you can ski town to town.
It’s the same in summer, just without the snow.
View from Passo Gardena
This is view down from Passo Gardena, overlooking the Val Badia, Colfosco, Corvara and the other towns and mountain ranges. Just stunning at sunset.

The first time stayed in town at the famous and fancy Rosa Alpina. In preparing for my hiking the first day, I went down to the local market and stocked up on water bottles, cheese and sausages, energy bars and nuts. I walked back into the hotel lobby and the owner Hugo was waiting there with a grin.

“What’s with the big pack?”  “For my hike.”  “You don’t need all that,” he chuckled, yanking out all my excess baggage. “You don’t even need to bring water on your hike, you’re in Italy. There are restaurants and water stops all along the way. Even WCs, Just go and enjoy your hike. Here’s where you should stop…”  pulling out the hiking map and circling his favorites.

“You don’t even need to bring water on your hike, you’re in Italy. There are restaurants and water stops all along the way.”

Pointing at ht map, Hugo said: “Stop for a drink of cold water from a stream right HERE. About an hour later, you can stop for a beer or espresso HERE, very nice view.  Then theeese place, you definitely should have lunch HERE, the best in the valley.”

Heaven.

You can see that San Cassiano is perfectly situated to explore the endless trails of Alta Badia, but easy to get over to Val Gardena and Cortina.
You can drink the water everywhere. In these conveniently spaced springs. Best drink of water, ever. And fun.
What a crazy contraption. Like an Italian Hillbilly rig. But delicious. I drank like a horse outta this trough.
Passo Gardena mountains
Passo Falzarego,
Around the corner is the Passo Falzarego — the pass that takes you over to Cortina, the WWI front lines were RIGHT HERE. With Austrian soldiers lobbing bombs from the left, down on the Italian troops to the right.
Passo Falzarego craters
See all those beautiful lumps? They are bomb craters from WWI. There are some places still off limits due to unexploded ordinance.
Passo Valparola on the road to Cortina
All of those rocks are not natural. This used to be the Austria/Italy Front Line in WWI and all of those rocks are blown from thousands of shells lobbed on the fort.

Where to Stay In San Cassiano

It’s a small village, but there are dozens of places to stay. Here’s a link to the Alta Badia tourism site to find accommodations.

Rosa Alpina exterior
The Rosa Alpina was my favorite place to stay (three times!) and one of the highest rated in Italy. Unfortunately, the ultra high end hotel chain Aman bought out the hotel and it is undergoing a multiyear renovation to “Amanize” it. Sadly, that will put it out of my price range.

My instagram friend Michelle who does high end NYC travel bookings highly recommends Ciasa Salares in town. Mary Louise Scio’s famous Issimo website has a fabulous hand-selected guide about all the best places. And she highly recommends La Perla in Corvaro — you’ll pass it a dozen times as you venture out hiking. It’s the next best thing to Rosa Alpina. And Emily Fitzroy of the famed Bellini Travel — the booker to the starts and movie filming location scouts highly recommends the Hotel Armentarola, just outside of town and at the base of the lifts and trails.

—  Last visited July 2015 and July 2017 and July 2019

Additional Information about San Cassiano Alta Badi

San Cassiano location map
This gives a good overview of where San Cassiano is in the Dolomites

Here’s another post I made about great hikes in Alta Badia. And a post on two amazing hikes the next valley over, in Val Gardena. Here’s another post I made of one of my favorite hotels in the Dolomites, in the Brenta range. And this is a great post for the best hike in Madonna di Compiglio.

Here’s a great recent 36 Hours in Dolomites article from the NY Times mentioning Rosa Alpina.  Here’s the TabletHotels listing for Rosa Alpina where it has a 20/20 rating.  And a short review in Conde Nast Traveler.

Rosa Alpina’s listing in the Michelin Guide.  A fantastic review from the great website The Fit Traveller.  A ski-oriented post from The Evening Standard.  And another 9/10 review in The Telegraph.  And in TripAdvisor.

The listing on Scott Dunn.


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